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I always love a good boss battle! But there are a few things I don't like about their setup in many games. In Mario, boss battles have no bearing on the story. Same thing in Zelda: they're often treated as exclamation points more than real characters. There are plenty of game that feature one-off bosses. But what about a game where every boss is actually the same character?

In the game I'm making the main character is a robot living in the human world. The main boss is the previous iteration of the main character: a robot that's more logical, and has come to the conclusion that the world would be better off without humans living in it. This boss is incorporated into the story as a character and his past is often spoken of. Every time you see this robot he builds himself a stronger, more powerful form, and makes adjustments based on what he perceives to be "weaknesses" with his previous forms. At the end of the game, he gives up creatively and just builds a more powerful version of yourself.

Sounds like a good concept? Discuss!

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There are 13 Replies

You could design it where this evil robot transfers its data/stream of consciousness into other robotic bodies for each boss battle. This would help to ensure that the design of the boss won't get stale and boring to players.

This also affords you an opportunity to have its attacks work differently for each boss battle.

Posted April 15th by Laxan
Laxan
 

recurring bosses are nothing new, but if you're not careful, this can easily turn into "wow...they really didn't have many ideas for bosses/characters, did they?" If every boss feels like a literal upgrade to the previous, that can get stale and tired - you'd need to keep them original. Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head as far as a game where you only fight the same character in that way, as it's normally broken up with other "big" encounters to keep things interesting.

but in line with what Laxan said: since you're working with robots, perhaps having the same AI inhabit several radically different bodies could convey the idea without making the game itself suffer from the sameness of "oh...this fight again." It's somewhat akin to the Mega Man X series, come to think of it.



Posted April 15th by Pirate_Ninja

In Mario, boss battles have no bearing on the story.


Bowser steals Peach, you fight Bowser. Seems pretty relevant.

Posted April 15th by nullfather

You could design it where this evil robot transfers its data/stream of consciousness into other robotic bodies for each boss battle. This would help to ensure that the design of the boss won't get stale and boring to players.

I actually intend on the robot designs changing DRASTICALLY. He starts off like a small, wimpy robot with weak attacks (think Clank, or the helper robots in Ratchet), then becomes a heavier mechanical biped (think the walkers in Sonic Adventure 2), then becomes an eldritch abomination (think Mother Brain, or GlaDOS), before finally turning into your own form at the end. It might be a pretty cool idea to have the main robot discard his old body parts around the world once you beat him. You'll walk into a shop and all of a sudden see the parts of a boss you fought previously for sale, other parts thrown in the garbage, and some people congregating around other parts, asking if you know anything about it!

recurring bosses are nothing new, but if you're not careful, this can easily turn into "wow...they really didn't have many ideas for bosses/characters, did they?"

I like the idea of setting up and subverting expectations. With a new boss you come fresh with no expectations at all, but using an old boss that has been modified heavily can be much more interesting. I don't plan on doing that for this game, but I had another game concept in mind where the two main characters are brothers with similar but opposing attacks (fire/water), and every boss battle is essentially the same encounter but taken to different magnitudes with new attacks layered over each other. Then there can be parts of the story where your brother doesn't perform as well as you'd expect because he's sick or something. You can't get that kind of storytelling from a new boss because you won't have any expectations that can be played with.

Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head as far as a game where you only fight the same character in that way, as it's normally broken up with other "big" encounters to keep things interesting.

I recall Sonic games typically have Dr. Robotnick piloting a small glass bubble from one mecha to another. So technically that is the same character, but the boss battles themselves are all very different.

Posted April 15th by mariomguy

yeah, I thought about the question a little more during some downtime later on and the early Sonic games could fit - there's not much story to speak of, but it's also more substantial than "ok this time Bowser throws hammers" so the encounters don't all feel the same.

to the best of my knowledge, Xeodrifter also does the single-boss-that-evolves-across-fights concept...but I've never actually played it or seen the entire game played, so there could be a curveball new boss somewhere (and I can't speak for its story).

Posted April 15th by Pirate_Ninja

I like the idea of the boss fights being part of a larger story. Adding context to the situation makes it much better!

Posted April 15th by mariomguy

exactly. Even before getting into any story-related depth depending on the specifics of your plot (which you seem to have an idea of, unless I'm reading into things too much), tying that "universal boss" to the narrative will immediately give you better justification for doing it and making it feel like a conscious, worthwhile choice. I'd be interested to see where it goes.

Posted April 15th by Pirate_Ninja

I'm still developing all this, mind you, so a lot is subject to change. However, I have a few main goalposts:

  • Overall, the game will be a puzzle-based adventure based off of Zelda and The Wolf Among Us: puzzles and mystery are the focus.
  • The main character is a robot (early teens) that is able to feel and emote as well as any human can. His other abilities include channeling electricity through his hands and feet. I'm still not sure how far I want to expand this (ie. walking on walls, shooting projectiles, stunning, reviving, magnetism, etc), but he is capable of producing electricity on contact. He is very kind, selfless, and optimistic. The guiding principle behind this character is he could be a boy scout: he isn't, but you believe he could be.
  • The world is filled with humans, everyone with a different opinion of the main character. They range the gamut from robots being criminal death machines to great pals, and others still are only interested in the technology, and see the capacity of a machine to feel as a frivolous afterthought. Sidequests and the main story all shift the mood and tone these NPC characters have on the main robot, who more or less has no choice in the way society views and treats him, despite all his good actions/intentions.
  • The robot's creator is a scientist. The scientist is a bit eccentric, but still a good-hearted guy. He does however seem to hold back from telling a lot of important details about the past. Throughout the game you learn to find out the scientist produced machines that had destroyed the environment and cost people's jobs. He intended those machines to be used for good, but other people had other ideas. To the scientist, the main character represents everything good he sees in machines: their capacity to help people.
  • But the main boss (let's call him evil robot) is actually an earlier prototype of the main character. Created initially as a marvel of technology, this robot was not given much in the way of feelings or emotions, and he ends up becoming a casual psychopath. This robot witnesses the destruction of the environment at the hands of humanity, and so reaches the conclusion that the world would be better off without any humans at all. His only two saving graces are A: he does not regard the main robot character as a threat, and B: he loves his creator. The evil robot believes the scientist can create technology to serve his own ends, but when he refuses he kidnaps him. The evil robot represents everything wrong with technology: what they become when used for selfish purposes.

    I don't have all the details ironed out yet. I really have no idea how to end it. I know I want the scientist's wife to be dead, but I'm not sure how or what that should signify at that point in the story. And of course, I want the robot brothers to be able to reconcile at the end. Perhaps the main robot has to teach the evil robot why feelings and the opinions of others matter, as well as the downside to Machiavellian thinking. But I have the world sort of figured out: the overworld is a Midwestern American town. The "dungeons" include an abandoned factory, a "haunted" mansion, and a secret underground lab/sewer.

  • Posted April 15th by mariomguy

    A problem with this is that the main villain ceases to be a credible threat. The player is always going to beat the boss, so if you encounter him nine times throughout the game, it's going to be tough to feel intimidated by him for the tenth time you fight him, regardless of how he manages to improve himself. In fact, the boss's upgrades might only make him less threatening, depending on how your game is structured. If the player has the same abilities at the start of the game as the end, and his enemy is only getting stronger and stronger just to be defeated over and over, no player is going to respect that enemy. The boss is trying his hardest to improve while the PC is breezing past his improvements with seemingly no effort.

    It gets worse than that though. Dr. Robotnik and Jr. Troopa were bosses that came to my mind that you fight multiple times across the game, but both of them are regarded as a joke. Jr. Troopa especially is written 100% as comedic relief, and this is how Robotnik is usually characterized in most adaptations. I don't think that's really a coincidence. Designers probably realize that it's tough to consider someone threatening when you beat him over and over, so they intentionally ham up the characters. If your game has a more light-hearted tone then it could work fine, but based on your description, you want people to take the boss seriously, which will be difficult.

    Good luck though, maybe some of what I wrote might help you in some way.

    Posted April 15th by The Bandit

    Again, each iteration will be radically different, so there's no telling what the next form will look like ahead of time. The first boss is small and weak. The second is much larger and more destructive. The third is an eldritch monster that takes up an entire room. The difficulty will go up as the game progresses, so obviously the boss battle will be intimidating. And the game will be structured in a way to show that the boss is learning from his own mistakes. He will also influence the story in other ways: I am seeking full incorporation for everything this guy does with the story.

    The player can only breeze past if the boss fight itself is easy (it won't be).

    I don't plan on having more than a few boss battles, and I want them all to be special and unique. I will say Jr. Troopa threw me for a loop with his flying spike and final forms. The problem with Jr. Troopa and Robotnik, though, is they don't really accept responsibility for their defeats or act on them. They throw a tantrum and vow for revenge, and they go bigger, not different. The boss battles with the evil robot don't end in his "defeat," per se, since he can't be defeated. I think of the battles as a conversation: it causes a shift in the evil robot's thinking, and his plans, believing he found a form that is capable of wiping out humanity, but can't stop this one robot he comes to see as "inferior." He uses social tactics as well, trying to frame the main character for crimes he didn't commit, so he can show him just how easily human emotions are swayed.

    I do intend on having some social/political allegories in the story and gameplay, so the Sheeple, fearful mentality will be explored and played with. The boss is not just a cartoon boss that appears at the end: he has a plan too, and that plan grows with the story. I know what I want to achieve, but it's a complicated setup that needs more time to fully resolve.

    Posted April 15th by mariomguy

    I have a question... If the boss is radically different each time you encounter them then how does the player identify it's the same boss character? I'm guessing dialogue or something?

    Posted April 16th by Moonray
    Moonray
     

    Yes, the boss will speak through dialogue. He's the only other robot character in the world. I don't want any other robot enemies to be floating around. Anything that talks, looks remotely like a robot, and is not you will be this guy.

    Posted April 16th by mariomguy
    Reply to: Universal Boss Concept
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